Hiring good fundraisers: Do you look for the 000 factor?

I was speaking to a friend the other day – who used to be a fundraiser and is now a top-notch, specialist recruitment consultant for fundraisers – about what we’d like to improve in fundraising. We had a great chat, but it was with some regret that I recognised the same points that come up in discussions with almost everyone I know that works in fundraising – and in many of the blog posts here.

If I were to attempt to chunk these up, almost all fall into the broad category of ‘short-termism’.  You hear about it all the time on this blog, in frustrated posts about charities putting more focus on donor acquisition than donor retention, failures in donor development (let alone relationship fundraising and lack of innovation and succession planning, not to mention the dissatisfaction about teams and departments working in ‘silos’ and individuals focused only on meeting their individual targets (silos of one).

Hiring good people and building great teams has to be key in addressing many of these challenges.  But there seems to be some consensus about there being ‘a lack of talented people applying for fundraising jobs’, and many organisations are opting to ‘make their own’ fundraisers to address this; recruiting through internship programmes or at trainee level.
Given this environment, I was surprised, disappointed and frustrated when I discovered, during our conversation, how much emphasis seems to be placed on financial achievements during candidate selection – particularly at the initial stage, on CVs.  My friend told me that, in the majority cases, candidates won’t be selected for interview if their CV doesn’t state how much they have raised, and that the larger the sums, the more likely a candidate would be selected.  The same, apparently, goes for budgets and sizes of team; clients like to see ‘the scope’.  Not only that, but candidates are encouraged to state what they have personally raised in each financial year; one set of CV guidelines I’ve seen actually stated, ‘It’s what you’ve brought in that counts’.

Now, before you think I’m a complete idiot, I haven’t forgotten we’re talking about recruiting fundraisers here.  Of course we need to know they can raise funds.  I get that.  I’m just not sure that selecting CVs based on financial achievements is really going to tell you what you need to know.  Or get you the kind of people you really want.

The good recruitment consultants know this and, they say, they only counsel candidates to present their credentials in this manner because it’s what their clients want – and they know their candidates won’t get past the first hurdle otherwise.  You can’t blame them.  Their job is to sell candidates and they need to pay their mortgage/the rent the same as you do.

What about the people making the hiring decisions?  Presented with a load of CVs – some with financial details and some without, some of them with big, impressive figures and some much smaller.  Don’t you think you’d be swayed by the zeros?  As much as I hate to admit it, I think I might find they’d influence me.

But this could be excluding some really good people – as well as people with real potential.  And it fails to account for a wide variety of factors that you would look for in good fundraising or good fundraisers.

I thought about those people from smaller charities who might not look as good ‘on paper’ as candidates whose experience has come from larger organisations, where budgets and income are higher, but who might be excellent fundraisers, getting the best possible results in challenging circumstances.  I thought about those people in support roles, who play an important part in income generation, but perhaps as little less directly, or who might not have access to all of the data to give their CV the ‘000 factor’.

I thought about my own CV.  Even though I’ve worked with more charities than I can now remember, have developed even more campaigns and strategies, and now work as a fundraising consultant and trainer, I’ve never kept a record of how much income the campaigns I’ve worked on have raised.  Nor could I give you a grand total; I haven’t ever had time to think about that, let alone keep a tally.  Don’t get me wrong – I always know how well campaigns have performed, I’ve always produced detailed reviews, analysed the results, learned and improved using the insights.  But that was the point – not resting on my laurels.

Then there’s the concept of what I’ve ‘personally raised’, which is is completely alien.  I can see how this is relevant to major donor and trust fundraisers, where they are working in a relatively singular way.  But how could I claim I have ‘personally raised’ anything when I’ve always worked as part of a team?  Which bit of the income was the bit I’d ‘personally raised’? And when I reached the point where I was managing a team, how could I claim the team’s total as my own?  Surely most organisational fundraising is a team effort and is all the more effective for it?  And isn’t that the spirit we want to encourage to break out of these 19th Century silos that are causing so many problems?  All of this is completely putting aside the point that looking at total raised overlooks a lot of other very important details – it’s only part of the picture.

Perhaps because I have worked agency side for most of my career that all of this initially came as a surprise to me.  I’m so used to screening CVs for skills and expertise, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with amounts of funds raised included on it.  Come to that, I don’t care which university someone has been to, or what class their degree is.  I’m far more interested in things like the diversity of their experience, which might indicate they are adaptable, as well as all of the really useful transferable skills they might bring (worked in customer services – great, you’ll be good with people and you’ll understand how important good customer care is!).  For me, some of the best bits of a CV are usually hidden away at the bottom, in the personal interests section.  This is often where people include hobbies and details about involvement in clubs, societies and of volunteering that indicate to me that a candidate is motivated, entrepreneurial, creative, determined, passionate, interested in the world, that they like to learn and develop themselves, and last but definitely not least, that they are committed to working in the charity sector or to playing their part in changing the world for the better.

I honestly believe that if someone has the right attitude – they really want to be a great fundraiser – and is smart enough to grasp it, they can learn the rest.

That’s just my perspective, but I wanted to hear from some people working at charities, and responsible for hiring and training fundraisers, about what they think is important, so I took a quick Twitter straw poll and received a few interesting responses:

I was heartened that people focused so much on attitudinal qualities – although I appreciate it is much harder to read those in a CV.  I just wonder how many people with those qualities get as far as interview, if their CVs don’t include impressive income figures?

I wanted to finish off my sharing this list of 11 ‘Killer Fundraiser Attributes’ very kindly sent to me by Michael McGrath, Co-founder, CEO of The Muscle Help Foundation:

Someone that can –

  1. inspire action in others
  2. naturally be creative in their approach
  3. can build an authentic pipeline
  4. be administratively brilliant
  5. be intuitive
  6. be a great listener
  7. bring/connect people together
  8. share heartfelt stories as examples
  9. captivate attention within 15secs
  10. understands ‘how’ to ask
  11. smile in their narrative/chat

Michael ended by saying, ‘That all said, you can wrap as many KPI’s and KPA’s around a fundraisers role as you want but at the end of the day, nothing … and I mean nothing beats someone with genuine natural passion – not only is it infectious but it will also help to deliver results to your bottom-line which ultimately is what any charity (especially small ones) are surely after.’

I couldn’t have put it better.  Thanks Michael.

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